The Tech at Mintel series shines a spotlight on our global IT department and how some of the industry’s best and brightest build Mintel’s modern, agile, and scalable technology backbone.
When I joined Mintel’s Chicago-based Software Development team, within a week I found myself drawn into a happy hour conversation with someone from the business about a ‘wild,’ new idea they had for using our data to better understand our clients’ markets. That was the first of many similar conversations over the years. The amount of data we interact with at Mintel is massive, and colleagues across departments, from Software to Insights to Data Science to Commercial, are quick to spot new ways we can help clients understand what’s happening now and what’s next in their markets.
Unfortunately, developers can only implement so many of these ideas each year. As a result, we often hear stories of colleagues spending days, or even weeks, each month manually creating deliverables and reports. As a developer, it was impossible not to be frustrated by these stories of people spending so much of their time doing such tedious work.
At the same time, it became very clear to me how many of my colleagues were interested in learning how to code. But unfortunately, at the time, there were no avenues to casually explore coding within Mintel unless you were in a tech-adjacent role. And while I could make suggestions for how to get started in self-directed learning, in the end, this often wasn’t enough. Coding is one of those things that can be very difficult to start learning by yourself.
One day, during a conversation with one of the software engineering AVPs, it finally clicked for me: we could solve both of these problems by creating a space where anyone from the office could program together, whether they were a seasoned software engineer or just writing their first line of code. That was how the Dev Club started to take shape.
Fast-forward a couple of weeks and I was sitting alongside two fellow developers hosting the first-ever Dev Club meeting. That day we taught a group of five friends of ours from other departments how to create a Hello World program in Python.
That was just the start. Every Friday, we hosted a workshop in the office and explored new ideas as we taught a growing number of colleagues from around the business how to program. With the advocacy of the software engineering AVPs, and the CEO of Mintel Americas, word of our side project spread. In just the first year, we saw 10+ developers teach nearly 30 individuals the basics of how to program.
Often, all we needed to teach our colleagues was how to query data, process it in Python, and then use Python to create visually appealing deliverables like PDFs and PowerPoint slides. Given that Python is a powerful and beginner-friendly tool, these were incredibly easy tasks to teach and learn. And, as any developer knows, all it takes is a little guidance before you can start growing and stretching your programming skills on your own through independent study.
In that first year, Dev Club grew beyond my hopes to become a space where people were being empowered through code to innovate and bring their new ideas to life. One of our attendees ended up saving his department over $200,000 annually just by automating reports that he and his teammates were generating by hand each month. From there, he went on to create multiple new reports and ultimately transferred to our Data Science and Analytics team. Another Dev Club attendee left his department to join ours as a junior software developer, where he continues to impress us daily with his drive and contributions.
When the pandemic hit, Dev Club transitioned to a virtual-only meeting space. Initially, our numbers dwindled, but as Mintel embraced the future of work including working from home, the office, and third places, Dev Club was no longer bound to Chicago and is now open to anyone across our global offices with an interest in seeing how coding can change their lives.